The African continent is on the cusp of something big.
Fifty-five nations are negotiating a free trade deal that will cover more than 1.2 billion people across Africa, from Morocco all the way to South Africa.
Their leaders are planning to give political backing to the deal in late March, and launch a free trade zone for goods and services before the end of 2018, according to a spokesperson for the African Union, an organization that represents all 55 countries.
The Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) could eventually be extended to create common policies on investment, competition and intellectual property.
It covers economies with a combined GDP of around $3.4 trillion.
The deal is designed to replace a patchwork of smaller trade agreements and bring countries closer together.
African nations hope one day to allow the free movement of people across the continent. An African central bank and single currency could follow within 10 years, said Prudence Sebahizi, the CFTA's chief technical adviser. The United Nations estimated in 2012 that the CFTA could boost trade within Africa by about 50% over the course of a decade.
Two of the biggest economies — Nigeria and South Africa — support the deal, according to the African Union, which works to promote economic and political integration. Nigeria is chairing the negotiations while South Africa has sent big delegations to each round of talks, it added.
With the continent's economy expected to grow to $29 trillion by 2050, the CFTA may evolve to cover a market that is larger than NAFTA today," he wrote, referring to the North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
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